ERNIE CLARK

Football provides a civics lesson in Biddeford

Posted July 26, 2012, at 2:22 p.m.

A refreshing example of Americana — one usually missing from the dialogue concerning interscholastic sports — took place Wednesday night at Biddeford High School.

With that school considering whether to have its football program continue to compete in Class A or move to Class B by enrollment under a proposal under consideration by the Maine Principals’ Association football committee to expand its sport from three to four classes statewide beginning in 2013, a public meeting was held to explain the plan and gather community input.

And you know what? According to all reports, the discussion was passionate yet civil, there was no yelling and screaming and seemingly all the relevant points were made.

“Most people in the state know how the community members in Biddeford feel about football,” said the school’s athletic administrator and assistant principal Dennis Walton, a football standout for the Tigers during the mid-1980s. “There have been a lot of internal discussions about this, but because of how the community feels we felt it was important to listen to them in order to get as many people’s positions and opinions as we can get.

“It was informative, a good opportunity for people to have their opinions heard and one more step in the decision-making process.”

During the meeting Walton explained the four-class proposal in detail and addressed rumors that a decision for Biddeford to move to Class B already had been made and that the Tigers would begin playing in that new class this fall.

Walton said no decision has been made about whether Biddeford — with an enrollment of 830 — will opt to become the largest football-playing school in a four-class Class B or remain as the smallest school in Class A, where it has won 11 state championships since 1965.

A decision will need to be made soon, however, as the MPA football committee is set to discuss the issue again next month.

Some 15-20 members of the public attended the meeting, largely sharing the sentiment that Biddeford should remain in Class A. Walton said he also has heard from many residents by phone calls and emails.

“It’s caused a bit of a buzz in the community,” he said.

Proponents of remaining in Class A cite the program’s tradition, as well as existing rivalries with the likes of Thornton Academy of Saco, that would be lost if the Tigers were reclassified.

Factors supporting a move to Class B include declining enrollment that has left the school with several hundred fewer students than several Class A foes, and the fact the Tigers have not won a state championship since 1994.

Yet the team has remained competitive for the most part since then, though after graduating 16 key seniors from the 2010 team Biddeford endured its first winless season since the late 1970s last fall.

“The timing of this proposal is difficult for us,” said Walton. ”Our program has been strong for many, many years, but we had a down year last year.

“We had a bad year, but looking at the big picture we have a strong program. The perception is that the MPA wants us to drop to Class B because we can’t compete in Class A anymore, but nothing could be further from the truth. This four-class proposal is totally based on enrollment, and nothing more.”

Walton said if the school does choose to play in Class B in 2013 that it shouldn’t be considered a demotion.

“You can’t look at it as something you do just to give yourself a better opportunity to win, it’s about building and maintaining a program,” he said.

How much public sentiment will affect Biddeford’s final decision remains to be seen, but the fact such input was even sought was a healthy choice by school officials and one that should be the rule rather than the exception in similar situations elsewhere.

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